Mentorless attack errs in length
A week after Ricky Ponting praised his attack for delivering the best performance of the past two years his bowlers slipped back to mediocre ways. With each step forward comes a slip back for Australia, who failed to exploit still friendly conditions until after tea and were left staring at a 204-run deficit.
In two days Pakistan have turned from meek to mighty and the hosts have been unable to hold the gaze. For the past year Australia's young attack has been lauded for their potential, but what they missed here was an experienced man to show them the benefits of pitching up on the fresh surface instead of banging the ball in. They had watched the success of the Pakistanis, operating in the most unfamiliar conditions, with fuller deliveries as the local batsmen were floored for 127 on the opening day, but did not bother to copy the method.
Danger was created by the shorter length and there were many plays and misses, a sure sign the plan is not quite right. There was no major correction even after Mitchell Johnson broke through with a seaming, pitched-up offering that decked away to clip Salman Butt's edge on 71. Instead arms were raised and heads shook at the series of near-misses that followed Marcus North's relatively simple spill in the day's fourth over. Run-out chances were also given up in the infield and there were two decisions, an lbw to Nathan Hauritz and a caught-behind off Peter Siddle, that didn't gain appeals. Replays showed they were both out.
Ten wickets fell on the opening day and the fast men managed eight victims on the second, with Johnson's inconsistent lightning striking twice at the top of the order. Only when the second new ball arrived did the Australians display sustained venom, again preferring a short-pitched attack, and they breezed through five victims as Pakistan finished at 9 for 331. It was meant to be that easy at the other end of the day.
The conditions had lost some spite, but the visiting top order played more sensibly than their opponents had on Sunday. They were happy to hang around during the morning and build solidly before becoming more hyperactive in the afternoon. After developing such a convincing advantage their relaxation was forgivable, particularly after their 170-run defeat in Melbourne. Australia's batsmen now face the most testing innings since their defeats at Lord's and The Oval during the Ashes.
Johnson is the most experienced man in the attack with 31 Tests but needs more support ranging from manly hugs to tactical spark that is not coming from the track-suited experts in the dressing room. Glenn McGrath and Brett Lee were in the stands, one comfortably in retirement and the other recovering from elbow surgery. During the first two sessions the guys on the field needed the experienced stars to be scribbling them notes on what to do.
It has been a difficult year for the young quicks, with Johnson fearing for his place during his spraying spells in England and Siddle realising through 16 games that muscle and will don't always frighten Test line-ups. Nathan Hauritz, the offspinner, followed up his first five-wicket haul in Melbourne by dropping short too often while Shane Watson was challenging as he bowled mostly straight, picking up two late victims as the tail-enders slogged.
Doug Bollinger, the left-arm opener, has shown serious promise in his past three games but wasn't able to break through until the shadows grew from the west of the ground. His shoulders lifted when he collected the new ball and grabbed three wickets as the visitors continued their high-tempo acceleration.
Australia own a fresh combination with much to learn, but from who? They have been working with the same bowling coach in Troy Cooley, who joined the team in 2006, but he has not proved the miracle worker he was with England. Pakistan have Waqar Younis and Aaqib Javed, the former Test bowlers, in their support staff and their messages are obviously getting through. The difference can be seen in the scores on the opening two days.
Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo